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Customer Service Profiles: Amazon.com, Printing for Less, and Starbucks

I’m finishing up the series on customer service profiles with customer service profiles of Amazon.com, Printing for Less, and Starbucks.

I buy almost all of my books and quite a few other things on Amazon.com. Their site is designed to sell and it does a very good job. Amazon used to be a legendary customer service organization (there was a time where you could email them saying “I can’t find this book: –” and the staff would go out of their way to find it from a bookstore somewhere around the country. Amazon.com isn’t like this anymore (probably because of size), but their customer service isn’t bad.

A downside to Amazon is that it is very difficult to find their phone number. Not too long ago they added a click-to-call button on their customer service page (which works). Their system almost always work (which is very important) and Amazon very rarely messed up.

From the few years I’ve been using Amazon, I’ve only had to return one batch of books. The books appeared as if they were used and I had ordered and paid for new books. I sent them back, the company apologized, sent me new books, and I was happy. I continue to use them. The call seemed very scripted, but it got the job done.

Amazon.com could use an easier to find phone number, an easy to find live chat button, easy to find customer service emails, and things along those lines. They have the major elements to customer services success down – they just have to work on the little things.

Printing For Less:
I have never used Printing for Less, but I have heard a lot of good things about them (described here). The company seems to be extremely focused on customer service and has been very successful.

Printing for Less has a few things that you notice instantly: their phone number is on the very front page at the top left, there is a very convenient way to track your order from the front page, they have lots of informational pages about design tips and tricks, their email is easily found and published clearly, and they have lots of extras (such as free file review).

They seem to have most of the things they need down: a dedication to customer service (at both a frontline and management level), the little things (easy to find phone number, etc.), and the big things (quality product, reasonable pricing, etc.).

Quite honestly, I very rarely go to Starbucks. I don’t drink coffee or anything else that I’d go to Starbucks to get, so I don’t have much first hand experience with them. However, Maria at CustomersAreAlways seems to almost live in Starbucks. Maria talks about Starbucks’ (almost always) good customer service in quite a few posts on her blog. She talks about Starbucks employees are often pro-active in solving customers problems (music too loud, a customer is cold), which is quite rare in the industry.

Customer Service Profile of Chick-fil-A

I saw a post about Chick-fil-A at CustomersAreAlways. There is a Chick-fil-A near me and I have to agree with Maria – their customer service is far better than their competitors’. In fact, I’d even classify it as pretty good when it comes to inexpensive restaurant customer service, much less fast food customer service. McDonald’s and Burger King almost always have terrible customer service, but Chick-fil-A is not like that.

Even more interesting is that the average transaction I’ve had at Chick-fil-A takes far less time than at McDonald’s, even though I’m ordering essentially the same things. I never hear managers yelling at employees at Chick-fila-A (they yell quite often at the McDonald’s I go to), the prices are roughly the same (from what I can tell), and best of all – the food and service is always consistent at the Chick-fil-A near me, as well as the other ones I have been to. This is very tough to achieve for any franchise.

Here is what Chick-fil-A seems to do right:

  • They hire right. Chick-fil-A’s employees are normally very friendly and seem intelligent. They seem to actually mean it when they say “Thank you” or “You’re welcome.” I have no idea if Chick-fil-A pays more than the average fast food employee or what, but they seem to find the right people. The managers seem equally dedicated and conscientious and are always quick to respond to and resolve problems.
  • They allow franchise owners to do individual improvements. The second article I linked to below talks about how one franchise owner creates some competition and encourages employees to try and make the process as fast as possible (while still preserving a pleasant customer service experience).
  • They aren’t lazy. A huge problem in the fast food industry seems to be that employees (regular employees, managers, franchise owners) are lazy. There can be 3 people standing behind the counter at McDonald’s and only 1 working the register (when there are a lot of people standing in line). This doesn’t seem to happen at Chick-fil-A.
  • They are involved with the community. When Chick-fil-A is about to open a new location, they try and find people who like the restaurant to promote it. Chick-fil-A also partners with local schools and they will donate a portion of sales where customers used the school’s special coupon to buy things. It’s a win-win-win (customer gets a discount, school gets money, Chick-fil-A gets customers and money).
  • Their management cares about customer service. See the article linked to below.

This is an interesting article about how Chick-fil-A’s management influences their customer service. This article talks about what Chick-fil-A does that makes a difference. On a somewhat related note, I also found this article today that contains 21 tips for retail customer service. The page has a great set of guidelines.

Note: The experiences I’ve mentioned at McDonald’s (and Chick-fil-A) are based off of my own personal experiences as well as what I have heard/read. They don’t necessarily represent service at all of the company’s locations (which is true for pretty much everything I write about – some people may be better than others, some people may be worse).

Upcoming Interviews & More on Headsets.com

The last few days has actually been fairly big for Service Untitled.

Mike Faith, the CEO of Headsets.com discovered Service Untitled the other day and I exchanged a few emails with him since his comment at Service Untitled. I spoke with him this afternoon. He is an interesting guy to talk to and I noticed a few things:

  • First of all, he took the time to A) comment on Service Untitled, B) respond to my email, and C) talk to me. Very few companies will do any of those.
  • He apologized profusely about not returning my call. I think he apologized about four times during the phone conversation and twice during the few emails we exchanged.It’s okay for you to not return a phone call occasionally, as long as it isn’t consistent and you can make sure any issues get resolved when the customer follows up.
  • He uses Google News to monitor the web for updates on Headsets.com, which is how he discovered Service Untitled. Mike said that if a customer or an article is written, they either thank them (assuming the write up was a good one) or try and resolve issues (if there was a problem).This technique isn’t new or revolutionary, but it’s not done as often as you think it would. Guy Kawasaki actually wrote a post about this topic not too long ago.
  • I mentioned I had bought a headset from Headsets.com and he was genuinely interested in my experience purchasing it and how it was working (never had a problem with it).
  • He likes Service Untitled. This isn’t really related to his customer service expertise, but it may mean he has good taste, right? Regardless, it also shows that Mike understands Headsets.com has room to improve (as do all companies) and that a blog on customer service is worth reading.

I’ve talked before about how important it is for the management team to care about customer service and Mike and the rest of the Headsets.com management team is a quintessential example of that. I’ll be interviewing Mike sometime over the next few weeks. I’m pretty sure he’ll have some good insight and tips to share.

There are also two more interviews in the works over the next few weeks.

  • A senior executive from HP about how the company is embracing customer service, trying to improve, and more.
  • The executive at Rackspace who pioneered the company’s legendary “fanatical support” about how Rackspace has embraced customer service, what they are doing to improve, and how they do it.
  • A senior executive from Automattic on many things related to customer service and blogging.

I’m still working on getting a few more interviews with executives from various companies, but we’ll see how that goes.

On a semi-related note, I’ve been noticing that companies that provide great customer service also have equally helpful media relations departments. It’s been accurate every time so far and is even relative (company 1 provides great customer service and has great media relations people, company 2 provides mediocre customer service and has mediocre media relations people). When I say a company has great or mediocre media relations people, I’m generally talking about the customer service they provide, how quickly they get back to people, etc. – not necessarily how good they are at their jobs (I am no where near qualified to tell).

I’m also sorry to report that the trackback system is broken again. I have no idea why, but it is and I will try to get it fixed as soon as possible.

Edit: Trackbacks should be fixed.

An Old Dog Learns a New Trick: How to Drive Phone Leads from Your Web Site

This guest post is written by John Federman, the CEO of eStara, a leading click-to-call company.

Remember the golden age of e-commerce when the entire industry leaned almost exclusively on internet self-help tools to address their customer service? Finding a 1-800 on a Website was next to impossible. The problem with this singular reliance is simple: consumers shy away from large or complex online purchases if they are not 100% certain about their expenditure. One issue, however insignificant, can spook the potential customer, resulting in Website abandonment and great dissatisfaction.

Anyone reading the business trade pubs this past week has no doubt seen the news about Google and eBay partnering to offer click to call service to online merchants, thus opening the promise of online advertising to an audience who may have avoided it in the past due to the complexity of their transactions or lack of a web presence. This partnership signifies the growing need for online merchants to connect with potential buyers over the phone. However, click to call offers much more than just a connection between buyers and sellers. When used strategically, click to call can increase sales conversion, reduce site abandonment and improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Google and eBay are not the first to discover the customer service benefits of offering potential buyers instant phone connection to an online merchant. Major companies like Sears and Jenny Craig have been using click to call solutions to provide better service and improve customer loyalty. Because it is IP-based, click to call has the potential to erase the usual customer frustration of having to start a transaction over when the they transition from the web to a phone conversation. And, it could help reduce the need for customers to wade through “IVR hell” to speak to the right agent.

Customer-oriented companies have found that by offering click to call rather than a static toll-free number, they can ensure a continuity of customer experience by transferring information about the customer and the context of their online session directly to the call center at the time of call initiation. With click to call, call center software can be configured to display this information directly on the agent’s desktop screen, or it can use the incoming data values to trigger lookups into the company’s own databases to retrieve related details (customer records, purchase history, billing information, etc.)

Some companies may be concerned about the added cost of taking calls rather than allowing customers to complete transactions online, but what if the customer has a question or just isn’t comfortable purchasing online? Wouldn’t it benefit companies to offer these kinds customers a chance to speak to a live agent and thus complete the transaction?

A recent study by Jupiter Research found that for high-value, complex transactions, most customers still prefer live voice interaction over other methods of contact, including e-mail, text chat and FAQs. Ironically, the future of customer service isn’t a fancy new technology; in fact, it’s one of the oldest tools in existence: the human voice.

The fact is that the kinds of products and services that can be found online are becoming more and more complex. We’re not just buying books on Amazon or EBay anymore; we’re buying TVs, Cars and Boats. For these kinds of interactions, consumers have traditionally shown that they’re more comfortable researching online and buying offline. Click to call service bridges that gap.

This guest post was written by John Federman of eStara, a leading provider of proactive conversion solutions for enhancing online sales. Mr. Federman’s worked with companies such as Amazon.com, Dell, Sears and Verizon to improve online customer service and sales. To learn more, visit http://www.estara.com or call 1-866-4ESTARA.

If you have an idea for a guest writer, feel free to post the person or company’s name, web site, etc. in the comments section.

Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day from Service Untitled! We’re taking the day off, but posts will resume as normal tomorrow.

Customer Service Difference #3: Ritz Carlton

The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company is another famous example of a customer service-orientated organization that succeeds because of its customer service.

The luxury hotel market is very competitive and Ritz Carlton has some very worthy competition which I haven’t not mentioned (Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, and many others) that are also known for superior customer service. Ritz Carlton is perhaps one of the more notable hotel companies when it comes to customer service, though I’ve been impressed by pretty much every hotel in the luxury hotel market. They all seem to do a great job and those that don’t, don’t succeed.

This is an interesting page on the Ritz Carlton’s web site. It outlines some of the reasons why they are an exemplary customer service company. The page is worth reading and examining.

Look at the three steps of service:

  1. A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name.
  2. Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs.
  3. Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest’s name.

That is an excellent customer service experience. That is what the best customer service representatives do and if you go to a Ritz Carlton, you’ll notice they actually do that.

Their service values further represent Ritz Carlton’s commitment to customer service. There are only 12, but they cover a lot and mean a lot. Their sixth value: “I own and immediately resolve guest problems.” is something that more companies should do. Employees at companies should take ownership and work to resolve customer problems.

It is obvious Ritz Carlton spent a lot of time in developing their service values. They are also rules and policies that are very objective (such as the above mentioned sixth value) as well as more philosophical things such as number seven: “I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.”

As an executive at your company, you should sit down with a group of employees, and devise customer service standards like the ones that Ritz Carlton has. Address problems that your customers and your industry experiences and come up with solutions.

The most important part is to be consistent and follow through with what your standards say. If your standards state that employees should greet people by name, make sure employees do. If your standards state that employees own problems until they are resolved, make sure that the policy is always listened to.

I’ve also added Rackspace to my list of companies to talk about.

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